Alopecia areata is a condition that causes round patches of hair loss, and can lead to total hair loss.
The cause of alopecia areata is unknown. About a fifth of people with this condition have a family history of alopecia.
Alopecia areata is thought to be an autoimmune condition. This occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue.
Alopecia areata is seen in men, women, and children. A major life event such as an illness, pregnancy, or trauma occurs before the hair loss in some, but not most patients
Forms of alopecia include:
Most of the time there are no other symptoms besides hair loss, but some people may feel a burning sensation or itching.
Alopecia areata usually begins as one to two patches of hair loss, most often on the scalp. It may also be seen in the beard, eyebrows, and arms or legs.
Roundish patches of hair loss are smooth, and may be peach-colored. Hairs that look like exclamation points are sometimes seen at the edges of a bald patch.
On occasion, a scalp biopsy may be performed. Several blood tests may be done, because alopecia areata may occur with autoimmune conditions.
If hair loss is not widespread, the hair will likely regrow in a few months, whether or not treatment is used.
Even for more severe hair loss, it is not clear whether treatments will change the course of the condition.
Typical therapy may include:
Irritating drugs may be applied to hairless areas to cause the hair to regrow.
Full recovery of hair is common.
However, some people may have a poorer outcome, including those with:
Permanent hair loss is a possible complication of alopecia areata.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you are concerned about hair loss.
Alopecia totalis; Alopecia universalis
Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2009: pp 932-934.
Reviewed by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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